The way the tourism trade operates plays an important role in addressing its own damaging impact.

Increasing incidences of natural disasters across the globe make it clear that as a global community, we’ve made life more than a little uncomfortable for some of our neighbours and the natural environment. The time to respond is now.

Increased demand

The demand for sustainable tourism is becoming more widespread. A growing number of travellers already practise sustainability at home and work, and they don’t expect to take a holiday from it. They are motivated by: 

  • sustainability as a necessary component of luxury travel; 
  • responsible behaviour in-destination for truly immersive experiences; and, 
  • the desire to travel to places at risk of disappearing forever. 

Concern for the health of the planet and the socio-economic welfare of local communities is spreading. Responsible travellers understand the controversy surrounding issues like modern-day slavery, animal interactions, and voluntourism to Third World orphanages. They’re keen to engage in guilt-free experiences and do business with travel brands committed to mitigating the negative impact on natural and cultural heritage, and local economies. 

Whether you believe in climate change or not, your clients do care and prefer to support brands that care too. 

Sustainability now

Sustainability comprises responsible tourism, eco-tourism, ethical tourism and green tourism. 

  • Responsible tourism is described as the choice of travel destination and tourism products based on ethical, political, cultural, environmental considerations. 
  • Ecotourism is travel with conservation aims, and the protection of both locals and visitors. 
  • Ethical tourism avoids participation in activities with negative outcomes, from human rights violation to economic expropriation. 
  • Green Tourism refers to environmentally-friendly travel.

Conducting business as usual just fuels the vicious cycle. What’s clearly unsustainable is: 

  • excluding host communities from decision-making that affects them or from tourism-generated economic activity; 
  • excessive consumption of natural resources and reckless waste disposal; 
  • damage caused by overtourism, from natural erosion exacerbating extreme weather conditions, which in turn impedes safe travel; and, 
  • damage to natural or historical sites that eventually make them unattractive to visitors or force them to close, impacting on the livelihoods of residents.

At the very least, tourism must not be seen to enable the negative impact. In fact, sustainability in 2022 is going further than mitigating the negative – the way forward is about generating positive impact, socially and environmentally. For travel brands, this entails contributing to opportunities for locals and local economies within the tourism framework, including job creation, skills development, sourcing local products and services. 

So, it’s not only about reducing your carbon footprint, but also about increasing your sustainability footprint. 

Playing your part

Your priorities are twofold: to meet the demands of responsible travellers and to collaborate with trade partners that are equally committed to sustainability. 

Partners in sustainable tourism 

  • Share your tourism business knowledge with host communities. Uninformed locals might jump too hastily onto the cash cow of local tourism and some may struggle to see the bottom-line benefit of expending extra resources. 
  • Partner with your host community: consult with and upskill them to empower them. 
  • Develop tourism products around local expertise in culture, undocumented history, natural resources and biodiversity, and lifestyle. 
  • Purchase local produce for your kitchens or collaborate with local food providers so that your clients sample what locals consume. 
  • Set a code of conduct for your trade partners to manage your shared values, help you meet waste targets and other ecological requirements.

If you’re planning on refurbishing or extending your existing structure: use recycled steel or building materials; install outdoor-to-indoor air circulation systems; capitalise on solar, hydro or wind energy, that is more renewable and less fossil fuels.  

Some easy operational tips to incorporate: 

  • eco-friendly laundry servicing of all linens 
  • low flow fixtures to minimise water consumption 
  • run-off water collection 
  • avoid detergents that are harmful to the local ecosystem 
  • fluorescent light bulbs or LED lights 
  • natural and organic, pesticide-free mattresses 
  • aluminium or glass water bottles and fittings

 Put your money where your mouth is

  • Encourage self-drives, train and boat journeys, biking, and other modes of transport with lower carbon emission. Recommend local public transport, music and sports events, souvenir shopping at local market, and restaurants that source local produce. 
  • Market your destination from the community perspective, spotlighting heritage sites and local conservation initiatives, and communicating your values and the integrity of your travel products and experiences. 
  • Factor the carrying capacity into visitor management, site presentation and promotion of your destinations. 
  • Educate your clients on what to do, not to do, what to wear or not to wear with respect to the destination’s culture, religion, geography, customs and ecosystem.
  • Focus your experiences on observation first to avoid disturbing the wildlife with minimal, guided, low-impact interactions. 
  • Promote a better understanding among your clients of pertinent local issues and lifestyle through meaningful interactions with host communities. 
  • Incorporate litter clean-ups, recycling and other green initiatives into your experiences, independently or in collaboration with NGOs. 
  • Explore heritage-based tourism as an investment in local culture, industries and services to sustain and showcase cultural assets. 

 As travellers consider their options more carefully, we share their responsibility of protecting our destinations. We need a mind shift from niche to mainstream, for sustainable tourism to become, just, tourism.

*2017 Article updated

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